Mark Smith has taken over as WoodLINKS USA national program director, but the goals of the organization remain the same: Increase awareness of the wood products industry; encourage students to enter the industry; provide industry-certified entry-level employees; and supply schools with current resources and information.

The need is greater than ever, as the domestic industry faces increasing challenges in the global marketplace. The program is more than six years old, and has 125 schools in more than 20 states. Most of these are high schools, but there are also postsecondary schools, community colleges and universities.

Smith is a former WoodLINKS teacher, so he is well aware of how the program is run, and its successes and challenges. He told me recently that he taught for more than 13 years, and he expects that experience will help him as national director of WoodLINKS, especially in the ability to relate to teachers and their problems.

In the coming year, Smith plans to put together new teacher information packets to explain the program; revamp the organization's Web site to meet the needs of industry, teachers and students; and try to increase the organization's budget.

Longer term, Smith would like to increase the accountability of the program to its supporters and to supply everything it can to educate the teacher.

Student strengths

High school and college students and recent graduates may be short on life experience, but they have other skills and advantages.

"Typically, a young person has a real desire to excel," Smith says. "They want to be the best at what they do. They have hopes and expectations for the future, and that motivates them. They want to meet or exceed the expectations of the employer. They also have a high energy level. One of the great things about getting a WoodLINKS-certified young student right out of school is they are open and accepting of learning new and different ways."

Former national director Wilf Torunski has retired. Torunski, who brought a special commitment and energy to the program, was navigating the aisles of AWFS despite a serious illness and was honored at a special reception in Las Vegas. Smith says the organization wants Torunski to stay involved and he has agreed to help.

Get involved

What about industry getting involved? Smith says companies can partner with schools by providing technical and financial support, supplies and consumables.

"I would encourage industry to continue to be proactive in their thinking in how they're finding their future employees," he says.

Many times when we travel and visit woodworking operations, we notice that the best companies have an ongoing relationship with a local high school, technical school or college.

If your company doesn't have such a relationship or doesn't know where to go, WoodLINKS is a good place to start. Contact Mark at 217.253.3239, woodlinksusa@netcare-il.com.

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